Reducing Heat Strain – Cooling Strategies

Angie SzumlinskiNews

Healthcare Workers During COVID-19 Pandemic

Healthcare personnel are using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) everyday, during the provision of care to their residents. The effect of heat loss related to wearing PPE compared to regular clothing/scrubs can lead to heat strain, dehydration, excessive sweating and increased cardiovascular strain.

In an article recently published in the BMJ, heat strain is a real risk for caregivers. As such, it is highly recommended that strategies be implemented to alleviate heat strain based on the length of time staff are wearing PPE. Adjusting work schedules and providing longer breaks is a common intervention, but not always feasible with staffing concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. It might be something to consider offering especially on COVID dedicated units as these units require a higher level of PPE use and have a higher risk of heat strain.

Cooling interventions used for athletes and military personnel in challenging ambient conditions have been known to improve performance, decrease heat strain, enhance recovery and reduce fatigue. Ideally providing pre-cooling with pre-hydration to lower core body temperature is beneficial for work tolerance time and physiological strain.  Both pre- and post-cooling strategies include drinking slushies, or cold water and/or wearing cooling vests to hydrate and lower core body temperature.

Although we are not performing athletic work and are likely in air-conditioned buildings, heat strain is a real risk for caregivers as PPE creates a microclimate around the skin that reduces the heat loss capacity. This thermoregulatory challenge can increase core temperature, thermal discomfort, sweat rate and risk of dehydration.

Providing opportunities for hydration pre-shift as well as during each shift can result in extended work tolerance time, improved physical and cognitive performance and improve recovery/reduce fatigue. Take a few minutes to discuss this with your interdisciplinary team and think of some unique, creative ways to keep your staff (and residents) hydrated. Remember, residents wearing facemasks are at risk as well and may enjoy a popsicle treat! As always, stay well, stay safe and stay tuned!

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